Why Australia must stay the course in Afghanistan
News that our Diggers have rejected Kevin Rudd’s pessimistic view of the war in Afghanistan is no surprise.
A foreign minister who derides the French and German contribution to the conflict as nothing more than ‘organising folk dancing festivals’ when each nation has suffered nearly 50 casualties is insensitive and out of touch.
Like our European friends Australia’s participation in Afghanistan is part of a broader international effort that is making considerable progress.
Our deployment has overwhelming support on both sides of the political divide and should have the unwavering support of our foreign minister.
I am conscious that within the community there are dissenting voices. This is understandable. War is a blunt instrument.
But there are times when neither the heavy human cost nor fragile public consensus should deter us in our task. There are times when we must take the hard decisions, stare down the detractors and steel our resolve.
In making the case in support of our commitment to Afghanistan we must remember why we first arrived there.
We must never forget the brutal slaying of nearly 3000 innocent civilians in 9/11 was planned by Al Qaeda from their safe haven in Afghanistan. We must never forget that ten Australians were among the nationals of 77 countries that died that day.
And we must never forget that since 2001, more than 100 Australians have been killed in terrorist attacks overseas. In each case, the perpetrators had links to Afghanistan. At the time of 9/11, Afghanistan was positioned at the axis of the global terrorist movement. Today this threat has not been permanently removed but has been severely weakened.
With 1550 Australian troops in the field we should be proud of the significant contribution Australia is making as part of the global effort. Today’s Coalition force of more than 120,000 troops comes from 47 different nations, including 19 non-NATO members.
Significantly there is also buy-in from the Islamic world with Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Pakistan all having attended the Kabul conference in July.
The global jihadist movement is as much a threat to their regimes as it is to ours and their involvement in helping to resolve the conflict is a timely reminder that our battle is not with Islam but with an extremist ideology that has sought to hijack Islam for its own totalitarian ends.
The truth is the people of Afghanistan have now for the first time begun to get a glimpse through the window of hope. The military and civilian contribution of the international community is making a real difference.
A free press, an elected Parliament, greater access to education and health services are all in place and a domestic police and military force has been established which will eventually take over responsibility for maintaining security.
We must be under no illusions, in Afghanistan there is no overnight cure. Progress is gradual and hard fought and there are continuous setbacks. But we cannot be deterred as the commanders tell us we are making progress and we know the cause is too important to fail.
Were Australia to prematurely withdraw from Afghanistan we would be sending the worst possible message to the people of Afghanistan, to our steadfast ally the United States and to all those with the intention and wherewithal to harm our citizens and our interests.
We would be betraying our basic instinct as Australians to see a tough fight out even if it means taking blows along the way.
And what would we leave in our stead? An even more fragile country in the invidious position of being overrun by the Taliban and used once again as a safe haven for the global terrorist network.
The instability this would bring to neighbouring nuclear armed Pakistan should alarm every free thinking leader across the world.
But most tellingly of all, were Australia to exit before the job is done, what would one say to the families of the 21 Australian soldiers Killed in Action and the 152 Wounded in Action since 2001? These 21 brave men have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country and we owe it to them to stay the course.
I have been very fortunate to get to know Felix and Yvonne Sher, the wonderful parents of Private Gregory Michael Sher.
Greg was tragically killed in a rocket attack in Oruzgan on Sunday 4th January 2009. A member of 2nd Company, 1st Commando Regiment he had been in Afghanistan for only 6 weeks and celebrated his 30th birthday only 4 weeks before his untimely death. Like his fellow fallen comrades Greg left behind a loving partner and adoring family.
Despite all the pain the Sher family has gone through, Felix wants it to be known that Afghanistan remains a cause worth fighting for.
He told me “we cannot withdraw until the momentum for peace, prosperity and the protection of women has reached the point where Afghanistan’s future can be secure. To do otherwise would make the contribution of our soldiers to have been in vain. It would also provide the Taliban with an opportunity to fill the vacuum and provide a fresh harvest of new recruits.”
The decision to take a country to war is the hardest decision its leaders can take. Having made that decision for all the right reasons in 2001 we now have a duty and a purpose in seeing it through.
Our military and civilian commitment to Afghanistan is in pursuit of a just cause, it is in Australia’s long term national security interest and it honours the bravest sacrifice of our fallen soldiers.
Josh Frydenberg MP is the Federal Member for Kooyong.
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